THE wife of an Irish man who drowned in Asia had to travel nearly 400 miles to Bangkok to return for his funeral after her passport was stolen during the search for her husband's remains.
Ilana James, whose husband Michael O'Sullivan drowned in a flooded river while on holiday in Laos, flew into the UK this weekend after travelling by car and train to replace her stolen documents.
Michael's brother John O'Sullivan told the Sunday Tribune of James's "nightmare" ordeal and said he had to personally pay for the recovery of his brother's remains due to difficulties with their Irish insurers.
"It was a nightmare. The insurance company had no regard for us and they did not make it very easy at all," he said.
Having made arrangements for his brother's remains to be sent home to Cork, he explained: "Ilana's passport was stolen so she was driven out of Laos by the Australian embassy, across the border into Thailand.
"Then she went by train to Bangkok to renew her passport with her father and she got a flight back to the UK [last Friday]."
O'Sullivan's remains arrived in Ireland on Friday afternoon. His removal will take place tomorrow ahead of a funeral mass at Ballincollig church in Cork on Tuesday. He will be buried in Bandon.
The 39-year-old restaurant manager, who lived in the UK, was on an extended holiday with his wife who he married in Cork last year.
They had been on a 'tubing' excursion on the Nam Xong River in Vang Vieng with about 18 other people when, on 17 September, O'Sullivan was swept away by the high water as the others reached safety.
Three days later his remains were located but according to his family their insurance company – a major Irish supplier – made life difficult. "It was an absolute disgrace," said John O'Sullivan.
"They [the rescuers] spent three days searching for his body and there was no assistance from the insurance company... When he was found and it was an issue of repatriation, the insurance company dragged its feet as much as possible."
John faced bills of €1,000 for the recovery operation plus €3,800 for Michael's repatriation before finally reaching an agreement with the insurance company last Monday. He has now vowed to campaign for an international repatriation fund into which all insurance companies would contribute to cover the repatriation of those who die abroad.